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Five Questions for our Departing Research Assistants

Corin Bronsther (CB), Elizabeth Stanley (ES), Nora Lenhard (NL), and Jamie Huizinga (JH) joined OrACORe as research assistants during the summer of 2018 and are now in the final days of their second year with us. We are extremely grateful for their hard work, dedication, and good spirits and will miss their presence in the office (virtual or not!). Here are some of their responses to our questions about their time here.


1. How have your roles and responsibilities changed in going from a first-year research assistant (RA) to a second-year RA?

CB: In the second year, every RA has the opportunity to lead a project or subproject. Learning to lead a team of peers and superiors has been an extremely valuable experience. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed leading ORBIT and making sure that both my own work and the team’s work is propelling the project forward.

ES: I am the only RA in my cohort not involved with clinic visits. I went from working on my own individual OAPol projects to helping coordinate all OAPol projects and to training the new members of our team!  I was able to hone my teaching skills with this added responsibility.

NL: Some of my new responsibilities have included taking over coordination of the TeMPO IRB and starting to work on an OAPol project examining the cost-effectiveness of duloxetine, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, for depression and knee OA. I’ve also been able to write more this year and have worked on a few manuscripts, which has been a nice way to wrap up some of the projects I’ve worked on over my two years here.

JH: During my first year as an RA, I was much more involved in the recruitment of subjects for our TeMPO study and performing musculoskeletal exams as a part of the initial study visits. In my second year, I transitioned to coordinating with the other centers and training newly hired research assistants. With our OAPol model, it has been rewarding to be part of a project from its inception to its end.

Zoey Shuang, Jamie Huizinga, and Elizabeth Stanley pose at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) conference. (Photo courtesy of Stanley.)


2. What’s a typical week on the job for you?

CB: I’m mostly involved with clinical projects and as such I work with patients, either recruiting them for our studies or conducting in-person research visits about two to three days per week. I work on OAPol projects for another one to two days most weeks, and the final day is mostly spent on administrative tasks.

NL: I work on a variety of projects throughout the week. For TeMPO, I usually spend a day in the orthopedic clinic recruiting participants for the trial, and I also randomize eligible participants to one of the intervention groups and answer their questions throughout their treatment program. On other days, I work on my OAPol project, including running the model and analyzing the results, and the INJECT qualitative study, which has included recruiting participants for and conducting focus groups/interviews and analyzing the data.

JH: A typical week will be split between working on three or four projects. For the participant-facing studies, I typically have two to three visits in a week with study participants. I spend some time coordinating with the other sites involved in our TeMPO study and working with OAPol, by preparing input files or analyzing the data that has been generated.

Nora Lenhard and Jamie Huizinga donned scrubs to see a total knee replacement in their first weeks at OrACORe. (Photo courtesy of Lenhard.)


3. What are you going to miss most about OrACORe?

CB: The incredible camaraderie! And the vast amount of support and help you can get from both your mentors and peers.

ES: The people we work with. It’s exciting to be able to work with people who are so friendly and welcoming on a personal level but also highly motivated and curious about research. I’ll miss working with such an interdisciplinary team and learning so much about topics I hadn’t thought about before.

NL: The abundance of opportunities to work in interdisciplinary teams. In any given week, we work with biostatisticians, other research assistants, physician assistants, physicians of many disciplines, and more. Getting to learn from their different perspectives has been a fantastic experience.


4. What’s one lesson you’ve learned during your time here that has changed the way you understand health care and/or clinical and policy research?

CB: This was my first experience with direct patient research, and I found that being able to put a face to the purpose of your research is highly motivating.

ES: I’ve learned to always question the data and what specific numbers really mean. Where did this data come from? How was it collected? The answers to these and more questions have real implications. Seeing all of our colleagues so insightfully question the data has emphasized the importance of continuing to do so myself.

NL: It’s been interesting to see how different clinicians incorporate evolving bodies of evidence into their recommendations to patients. Seeing them balance their knowledge of the literature, their patients’ individual circumstances and preferences, and their own clinical experience to come to a decision with the patient regarding their treatment plan has provided an interesting window into different styles of incorporating research findings into clinical care.

JH: It has been rewarding to work on projects that are very different from one another. I’ve observed the value in a computer simulation quantitatively driven project versus one that rests heavily on interacting with study participants. The world of qualitative research, such as focus groups and interviews, has also piqued my interest. I have found it very rewarding to meet many different people and begin to understand how the healthcare system intersects with a specific time in their life.

In celebrating their first winter at OrACORe, the group went on a skiing trip to Vermont. (Photo courtesy of Huizinga.)


5. What are your career plans post-OrACORe and how has your time here influenced them?

ES: I am planning to spend the next five years studying medicine and research at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. My time at OrACORe has shown me that research is definitely something I want to be part of my career. I’ve gravitated towards questions about how we can improve the delivery of health care and the health of the US population during my time here.

NL: I’ll be starting medical school at Case Western this summer. Working at OrACORe has provided me with exposure to how a variety of physicians balance different responsibilities, including research and clinical practice, in their careers. Having the opportunity to work in an academic medical center and engage in a broad variety of research methods, from clinical trials and health policy modeling to survey studies and qualitative research, has given me insight into some of the many possibilities for integrating clinical and policy research in my own career.

JH: I plan to attend medical school at the University of Michigan starting this summer! My time at OrACORe definitely confirmed my decision to apply to medical school. I enjoy interacting with different types of people from biostatisticians and epidemiologists to clinicians and patients and hope to have that kind of work style in the multidisciplinary field of medicine. The team setting emphasizes the value in learning from other people, as well as how to work with people and patients in a professional setting that I am sure will carry over into my career.

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